Corbyn criticises DUP over abortion stance during Westminster debate

Labour MP Stella Creasy says repealing sections of the British Offences Against the Person Act would respect devolution

Labour MP Stella Creasy is calling on the British government to repeal a 150-year-old piece of UK legislation that criminalises abortion in Northern Ireland. Video: Parliamentlive.tv

 

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has hit out at the DUP after it insisted Westminster should not meddle with Northern Ireland’s strict abortion regime.

As the Commons was holding an emergency debate on termination laws, Mr Corbyn insisted Parliament had a responsibility to respect human rights standards.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said that abortion is a devolved matter and should only be dealt with by the Northern Ireland Assembly, which is currently suspended.

Mr Corbyn said: “I would say very politely to Arlene Foster, you were elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly, maybe you should play your part in ensuring that Assembly functions and we get a devolved administration working in Northern Ireland.

“In the absence of it, then clearly the UK Parliament has responsibility to adhere to human rights standards, and there is a Supreme Court decision coming on Thursday.

“Labour’s position has always been that abortion rights should be extended, without fear or favour, across the whole of the UK.”

The British Government has faced intense cross-party calls to liberalise Northern Ireland’s abortion laws following the landslide pro-choice referendum victory here last month.

Mr Corbyn’s comments came as MPs were debating on Tuesday repealing sections of a 150-year-old law that criminalises abortion.

Labour MP Stella Creasy pushed for the debate to discuss doing away with parts of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

Ms Creasy, opening the emergency debate in the Commons, said: “There are many issues ahead of us here today — decriminalisation, devolution, domestic abuse but above all I want to say it’s about a particular ‘D’, dignity.

“The dignity of women to be able to choose for themselves what to do with their own bodies.”

The Walthamstow MP, reflecting on the Irish referendum result to liberalise its termination laws, added: “It is now time for us to offer our hands to the women of Northern Ireland in the same way.”

Ms Creasy said the proposal to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA) 1861 would respect devolution, telling MPs: “The time limit would not change, nor would the important role of medics in this matter.

“I respect and recognise that some people do not consider abortion a human right and so think a criminal approach is the right response, but I recognise many more agree it’s not that that worries them but the constitutional issues that are stake.

“Even though the Good Friday Agreement explicitly retains human rights responsibilities for [WESTMINSTER], let me reassure those MPs who want to uphold the role of devolved assemblies that repealing OAPA would not write a particular abortion law for anyone, but it would require them to act.” - PA